How B.C. health leaders will be living their lives as restrictions ease

When provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had a couple of friends over for a glass of wine in the front yard of her Victoria home on Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t a typical long-weekend get-together.

“It was a bit awkward and strange and a little bit anxiety provoking not having socialized for several months,” Henry said.

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She washed her hands, poured the wine, placed the clean glasses on a serving tray, and set the platter down for friends sitting two metres apart.

There was also hand sanitizer on the tray — which has become the new table centrepiece during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When her two friends left, as when they arrived, there were no hugs “which we wanted to do,” said Henry, in a phone interview.

The Times Colonist spoke with three health leaders on Monday about what they are personally planning to do as businesses open and social circles broaden under Phase Two of the B.C. Restart Plan that kicks off today.

B.C. Nurses’ Union president Christine Soresen, in Kamloops, will stick to take-out and patio restaurants for now; infectious disease and critical care specialist Dr. David Forrest, in Nanaimo, is wary of any enclosed space where people aren’t wearing masks, so indoor restaurants aren’t first on list to-do list; Henry is excited to return to her favourite eatery.

Phase Two is an experiment for both businesses and patrons, Henry said. “For many, the transition brings anticipation but it also, for many, brings further apprehension and anxiety as schools and businesses look to open once again. We are still learning the new ways of social interactions and doing things we’ve never had to do before and that in itself can create anxiety and concern.”

The idea is to keep to small enough groups to deprive the virus a chance of taking off again, Henry said. “It’s not going to be back to normal, it’s going to be back to something that’s really unusual and different for us.”

Next time Henry has her friends over, she will consider setting out individually portioned snacks, she said. “It’s really about being mindful and cleaning your hands regularly.”

As for restaurants opening this week, Henry is eager: “I’m really looking forward to going to a restaurant.” Her favourites tend to be smaller venues. “Outside is clearly safer but if I’m with one other person in my bubble I’m happy to sit inside and I will be looking again to make sure there’s the right spacing.”

Restaurants are required to operate at 50% of capacity, serve parties no bigger than six people, keep different parties at least two metres apart, and record contact information of at least one guest from each party and keep it for up to 30 days for contact tracing in the event of an outbreak.

To keep fit and maintain a balance in her busy life, Henry runs and does yoga.

Henry has been asking her yoga studio to hold classes in a park. “I’d be more inclined to do outdoor yoga right now.” As for her gym, she is going to continue to take their online classes. “I think it’s going to be a bit of a mixture right now. I find it really convenient to have a session with a trainer virtually.”

If people maintain their distance, Henry believes going to a department store or clothing and shoe shops will be fine.

Forrest, the infectious disease expert, has no plans to step inside a shopping mall or a gym any time soon but he’s less concerned about going to a barber, provided there’s proper physical distancing, low numbers of people and wearing of masks.

“Any place where there’s going to be crowding in an enclosed space will be a concern to me if not everyone is wearing a mask and because it’s not mandated and because I’ve seen people less interested in wearing masks recently I’m more concerned,” said Forrest. He emphasized that masks are not a replacement for physical distancing, but are a necessary adjunct.

Particularly difficult are establishments such as restaurants where it’s not practical to constantly wear a mask, said Forrest.

With renewed confidence among Islanders stemming from the low number of reported cases, Forrest said COVID-19 “will almost certainly” be re-introduced here. Rather than venturing out to more businesses and broadening social circles, Forrest said: “I’m actually a little bit more anxious now doing things like going to the grocery store and going out because the sense I have is that people have let their guard down a bit.”

Sorensen, the nurses’ union president, said she will continue ordering take-out food, she’s curious about an outdoor patio opening up across the street from her Kamloops condominium, and she has a hair appointment booked for June 3 — but she’ll hold off visiting a department store for “a little bit.”

“We’ll be looking for places that offer take-out and outside dining,” said Sorensen, who is sharing a condominium with her mother, 76, a retired nurse, and eldest son, 25, who returned from work in London, England. because of the pandemic.

“I’d prefer not to enter into a restaurant and stay in and be seated in a restaurant, and rather sort through this next month or so of the re-openings just to see how we manage,” said Sorensen.

Priorities start with a dental appointment for a cleaning and checkup and “next on my list is absolutely going to be my hairdresser,” said Sorensen. Her hairdresser opens June 1. Sorensen has been cutting her own hair. “She’s going to help me fix up my trim.”

Sorensen said when shopping in a grocery or hardware store she’s looking for places that make hand sanitizers available, have good physical distancing, dividers or barriers at cashier stands, and safety guidelines posted.

“Right now I think smaller businesses and outdoor access is very important for me — and fresh airflow I think is a good idea. Eventually we will all have to adapt and figure out how to enter larger businesses or big box stores or shopping malls and to do so safely.”

Sorensen socializes with neighbours and friends on her front lawn keeping a physical distance. “I think that’s what we’ll continue to do until, you know, we get the go ahead from Dr. Bonnie Henry to move forward into the next phase; we’ll do this cautiously and carefully.”

Henry said as we move forward we need to take a deep breath and continue to be “cautious everywhere.”

Just as we’ve adjusted to going to grocery stores under this new normal, we’ll learn to integrate more venues and safe contacts into our daily lives, she said.

“It will be a little anxiety provoking the first time we go to a restaurant and we’re sitting there, and it’s like OK,” said Henry.

The virus remains in the community but health officials have a good handle on where it is, Henry said. Phase 2 will bring a slight increase in cases but it should be manageable and traceable, she added. “So I’ll definitely be going to restaurants but with a small group. ... We just need to take it slowly.”

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